Sunday, November 12, 2006

Drive my own life

In many of my blogs, I have expressed a sense of loss for certain elements and attitudes of the America I grew up in during the 50's and 60's, but today's topic---Diane Ackerman's quote about not wanting to be a passenger in my own life---provides me the opportunity to celebrate one specific fabulous aspect of this America; that is our freedom as women of the late 20th/early 21st century to choose our activities and careers for ourselves.

As an American literature teacher, I have really enjoyed teaching Kate Chopin's very short story "The Story of an Hour." Chopin, in her time, scandalized society with her ahead-of-her-time willingness to acknowledge that women had ideas, dreams, and desires of their own. Most of my students today don't even understand the story without a second reading and some background information about the role of a wife in Chopin's time period. (They simply perceive the main character to be a selfish, unkind, unfeeling woman who never really liked her husband at all-----if that is what you thought also, go read it again, and pay attention to all the small details and their implications.) Those were the days when women were not even asked to share ideas with men in conversation, much less asked for input in decision making. One did exactly what one's husband suggested, cooked the foods he wanted to eat, went to the places he wanted to go, and otherwise stayed home having babies and raising them and doing the "women's work" necessary to keep the house running smoothly and in such a manner that nothing interfered with the master-of-the-house's peace of mind or digestion. Even if one had a very thoughtful & caring husband, the best she could expect was that he would do for her or buy for her things he thought she would like.

I really think my mother provided me with a wonderful role model of both ways: the first half of her life she was the driver of her own life, although she was a child in the first quarter of the 1900s. One of 11 children, they were told if they wanted a college education they must work their way through. Almost all of them chose to do so. But along the way she lived. At about 20, Mom and her next older sister booked passage on a steamer to Paris. Many were the stories she regaled my brother and me and my best friend with about the adventures of that trip. When they returned to the states she worked for money to go to college, then attended college on work-study programs. I believe she got her degree when she was nearly 30, but she also met Dad there, tho' they were not married until after he was involved in World War II. While he was overseas, she was employed by the government, living on ration coupons and working as a home demonstration agent, showing young homemakers how to stretch their money and foodstuffs to feed families while husbands were away. When Daddy returned, they started our family. At this point Mom became a typical 1950's full time wife & mother, like Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson. One might say she then became a passenger in her own life, but I don't look at it that way. This was a choice she made. She was home, showered and dressed, with dinner on the table when he came home from work; but in the daytime she was garden club president and active in the church in addition to getting the housework done.

I cannot imagine living the life my mother lived, even though I loved her in it and cannot wish to have had my childhood life situation any different. But my independence is something I value. Some might laugh that I believe myself independent, since I have been married to the same terrific man for over 35 years. But he was one of my early great choices. Another was the career that once I was led toward, I pursued with a vengence and further education. Our separate career choices actually may have provided me more personal independence than I expected or even wanted, because we have never worked the same schedules, but I am sure that has led to some of my feeling of being my own driver and decision maker. With my husband's support and endorsement, I even found a way to incorporate the dream of travel abroad into my life's work.

We women of today take the choices we are allowed to make so much for granted. Most of us never even consider what it would be like not to be able to choose the most basic aspects of each day, much less having major life choices made for us.

I thought of several quotes I really like about life choices and being in control of one's own life. Not too surprising, since music is another of the loves of my life, all the quotes I came up with come from songs. Two of my very favorite songs about living life to the fullest come from Garth Brooks songs:
1-- "Life is not tried, it is merely survived, if you're Standing Outside the Fire." (obviously metaphorical)
2-- "I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to Miss the Dance"

I love the song Lee Ann Womack sang for her daughters, ..."and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I Hope You Dance."
And then there is the great one from Bob Dylan, contributed by my husband: "He not busy being born is busy dying."


Blogger Brad said...

Who ever was the anthropologist who noted "women are the backbone of society."

The choices are difficult. The options are limited. Women are often victims of patriacal systems.

I have great respect for the single woman that makes the ongoing choice to deny familial entrapments and pursue personal desires - control - drive.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Beautiful post -- your mother's story is fabulous. I love the thought of two young women cruising to Paris in the pre-War era. How daring! I'm glad you wrote about this -- I hadn't really thought about the quote in that context, but it is something I am so grateful for, our freedoms. Just a glimpse of women draped in black in Saudi Arabia is enough of a context check for what we have and should not be complacent about. (I recently heard - 2nd hand - about a woman Sunday school teacher who was let go after decades in the position because the minister of the congregation had decided women should not be in any kind of religious teaching roles; apparently the Bible teaches this? Not a judgment on the Bible -- just the guy. Maybe HE wants to live in Saudi Arabia!)

11:56 PM  
Blogger Rethabile said...

"I cannot imagine living the life my mother lived."
I can imagine the life my mum lived, and I envy her. This is because I can't imagine the life my children will live. I don't envy them.

12:38 AM  
Blogger ren.kat said...

I grew up in the 70s and have taken women's rights for granted much of my life. Not anymore. I respect women who choose to stay in the home and who work hard to provide the incredible things they provide to their families, but I do not choose that path. I value that right. Value the right to make myself heard. Wonderful post.

4:30 AM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

This is a wonderful post - I love your mom's story and your exploration of her life and carving a life of your own choosing. Your mom was quite daring for her day - going off to Paris!

12:45 PM  
Blogger Kay said...

Very nice. It IS good to have choices.

8:19 AM  
Blogger deirdre said...

It's so true that we too often take our choices for granted. I'm from the generation between, when women were starting to speak up and before it became expected that we'd have careers and choices. You've written so well about how that worked through your mother's life and your own.

1:18 PM  

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